Sports drinks normally include sugar, electrolytes and sometimes caffeine. When comparing them side by side a few things stand out. We can see there are significant differences in the quantities of the additives and some alternatives to the usual options.
The levels of sodium and potassium being offered vary dramatically between brands
There are three ranges of carbohydrate options.
primarily electrolytes 0-10g
mid range ~15-25g
high performance ~30-77g
Drinks come in many forms powders, tablets, liquid concentrate or full ready to drink bottles.
Caffeine is optional and not that common in the sports drink world.
Price is all over the place from $0.20 a serving to $3+.
The fancy lad race fuels offer a plethora of options.
The Classics Compared
Central Washington University put together this simple chart with the most well known sports drinks and included Coca Cola and Orange Juice at the bottom for reference. Note how the sugar quantities are in a pretty tight pattern of 14 – 19g per serving. Also of interest here is that every sports drink includes sodium and potassium. These are critical electrolytes we lose from sweating and urinating. Once depleted of this electrolytes absorbing any water is difficult.
Modern Sports Drinks with more Additives
Proactive Nutrition has put out a comparison chart that shows a bigger picture of common additives sports drinks use today. Now it is normal to see drinks come in powder, tablet and liquid concentrate forms. The interesting thing about this chart is there is now a market of pure electrolyte mixes. Note how “The Right Stuff” consists of only salt while NUUN and Powerade Zero both contain the classic sodium potassium and a few other electrolytes while providing no calories.
The High End Sports Drinks
As you would expect to find in any market place there is a prosumer level for sports drinks. These are specialty powders and tablets that cannot be found in most grocery stores, but would show up in your local sporting good stores or of course online. The price jumps significantly when going from grocery store electrolyte drinks to specialty sports formulas. While a packet of gatorades Propel electrolyte mix would cost $0.20 at Walmart the equivalent for GU’s roctane would be $2.95 from Amazon. Feed the Machine nicely sums up the difference in offerings. Note the huge caloric loads these drinks provide going up to 77g per serving. The options are extensive at this price point between caffeinated, organic, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, branch chain aminos, etc.
My Favorite : Gatorade Propel : Kiwi Strawberry
Hands down the best taste, price and portable energy powder I’ve come across is Gatorade’s Propel. It is universally accessible, costs less than $0.20 per serving and their kiwi strawberry flavor is delicious. I love that they added B3, B6 and B12 vitamins which are critical for energy production along with vitamin-C. The significant quantities of sodium (210mg) and potassium (65mg) feel just right in terms of not being too salty and holding back those awful calf cramps. This is a zero calorie electrolyte based water beverage so you can only go as far on it as you have trained for without calories. That is to say a low carb biohacker might be able to go for hours or days on this drink alone, but a high carb or high intensity athlete would do well to choose a source of calories.